Should you buy an ASI Air?

The ASI Air has become one of the more popular additions to many people’s rigs over the last few years, getting new upgrades and better software, but should you buy one and is it really time to ditch your laptop?

A Double Edged Sword

While there’s no doubt the success this little box has had has been because of its great convenience and performance, there are some interesting pros and cons that I’ve found very few people talking about.

Firstly, some of pros. You can watch reviews online and see immediately the appeal, it’s low power, easy to use, has most of the features any astrophotographer uses and even sync to your phone so you can capture your images from the comfort of your couch.

I do have some issues with this little device that keeps me from buying one though. First off, it runs on a raspberry pi. The Pi is great, don’t get me wrong, but it runs on a linux distro which means software support is limited. With the ASI Air, you don’t get the kind of control over your gear that you would if you used some like NINA or SGP. While the Air has come a long way with its software, nobody is going to argue it can go head to head on functionality with NINA. This is completely fine if you’re a beginner or you don’t want that much control over your gear which I understand, sometimes SGP or NINA can be a bit too much to get around and some people just want to get up and running taking pictures.

It’s price is also something I take a bit of an issue with. I know, I know, the software is proprietary and the device is unique so ZWO gets to define the right price. That’s a fine argument, but $250 for what is effectively an imaging software package (PHD2 is what guides for it and that’s free) seems steep. The raspberry pi that powers it obviously doesn’t cost anywhere near the cost of the Air Pro and it just seems like you’re getting a bit too high in price to justify. I could very easily 3D print a housing for a Pi and run astroberry on it for a fraction of the cost. Would it be as seamless and have customer support? No, but at $250 maybe you start to ask whether that’s worth it. Some people are all about having things just work and do it easily and for them the Air is great. For people who are willing to do a little DIY, I don’t see the appeal really.

My setup at home is an old surface pro 3 (used a pro 2 for a bit as well) running my imaging software and a program called Parsec. Parsec connects to my WIFI and allows me to stream the surface’s desktop to my laptop or desktop inside the house. This allows me to run all the software I want and also not baby sit my rig outside when the weather isn’t so pleasant. It works pretty seamlessly and requires very little setup to get going and allows me to use all the software I love while saving my images directly to a networked storage drive to send my files to my computer in the house automatically. I’ll go over how to do this at some point but for now, it works great. If you’re like me, the ASI Air doesn’t really offer you anything of value beyond being great for when you may not have direct AC power hookups available.

When Should You Buy It?

If you’re someone with a small star tracker setup like the Star Adventurer, the ASI Air is definitely for you. It’ll help keep the bulk of your system down and allow it to be significantly more portable. However, if you’re someone who has a heavy, dedicated astro setup, I just can’t see the value it offers you beyond being essentially a cheap mini PC. If you’re at home with AC hookups, you simply get better control over software and acquisition with a laptop as well as better options for software. The ASI Air software is great, but it still is inherently limited by being on a raspberry pi in a portable setting. I’ll put together a more in depth look at how I do my workflow sometime soon so you can replicate it or build off it at home.

I don’t think ZWO is really aiming the ASI Air at people with heavy, dedicated equipment anyway, so I don’t think it’s something that really concerns them. This post should also not be taken as a knock on the product itself, it really is a good product and fills a need for a lot of people. I just think that everyone should be well informed and explore all of their options before pulling the trigger on something that will limit them to some extent going forward, especially with the limitation of ZWO devices only.


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